Italy is famous for its various styles of architecture which, over many centuries, have inspired architects all over the world. In northern and central Italy, it was the Etruscans who first established a distinct architectural style. The principal elements of their designs for temples, pillars, arches, doorways and gates were a major influence on the Roman architecture which followed. In southern Italy, it was the Greeks who were the first to establish an architectural style. The remains of Greek temples and theatres can be seen in various places across Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Sicily. Agrigento, in Sicily, is an excellent example and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ancient Romans, adopting the influence of both the Etruscans and the Greeks, established one of the most famous styles of architecture in history. The Colosseum in Rome stands as a lasting testament of their achievments.
Early christian and Byzantine architecture is found right across Italy with two of the most notable examples being St Marks Basilica in Venice in the north, and the Cathedral in Monreal in Sicily in the south.
The Romanesque period followed, so called because of its adoption of Roman features such as curved columns and arches. It was the first time that a vault with projecting ribs had been used and it incorporated side galleries onto the basilica. One of the notable examples in Italy is the cathedral in Pisa along with its famous 'Leaning Tower'.
Gothic architecture originated in Burgundy, eastern France, from where it was imported to Italy, along with other European countries. Although never widely adopted in Italy, the best example of the style is the Duomo in Milan, partially designed by German architects.
Renaissance architecture saw a revival of classical themes. Brunelleschi created one of the finest examples with the dome of the cathedral in Florence. Other notable architects were Raphael, Michelangelo and Palladio.
The Baroque era saw the completion of St Peters Basilica, which had been started during the renaissance. The famous Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain in Rome are good examples of the style and there are other notable examples to be found in Ragusa, Noto and Modica in Sicily.
By the early 18th century, the lavish designs of the Baroque era had given way to a simpler, more classical style, known as Neo-Classicism. The Villa Olmo in Como is a good example of Neo-classical design as is the Royal Palace at Casserta, although the lavish interiors are more Baroque.